Pretrial hearings for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and four other defendants are set to resume on September 7 at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The pretrial hearings are resuming after a 17-month pause just as the United States prepares to mark the 20-year anniversary of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and that were followed by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to hunt down the perpetrators.
Within months of the attacks, the United States rounded up hundreds of “enemy combatants" with suspected ties to Al-Qaeda. Today, 39 remain at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, including 12 whom Washington regards as dangerous figures of the terrorist network.
The military commissions system overseeing the alleged Al-Qaeda figures has lasted nearly a decade and proved to be problematic for multiple U.S. administrations. Only two convictions have resulted. The pretrial hearings scheduled for September 7 will be heard by a new judge, the eighth to preside.
The five defendants are charged with conspiracy, terrorism, and the murder of 2,976 people in the attacks, charges which can bring the death penalty.
But there is no certainty that a verdict will be handed down even by next year.
Muhammad's lawyer believes the hearings are timed to show that something is happening on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. David Nevin, who has been on the case since 2008, told the BBC the trials still are not even close to starting. He expects it will be "something in the order of 20 years for a complete resolution of the process."
Muhammad, known by the initials KSM and the most prominent among the five, is called the mastermind of 9/11. A Pakistani citizen raised in Kuwait, Muhammad, 56, is believed to have first proposed crashing jets into U.S. buildings to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1996.
Muhammad is a graduate of a U.S. university who was working for the government of Qatar in the early 1990s when he began devising plots with his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, who detonated a bomb in New York's World Trade Center in 1993.
When Bin Laden approved the 9/11 plot, Muhammad was put in charge, according to the prosecution. He was captured in Pakistan in March 2003 and taken by the CIA to black sites in Afghanistan and then Poland for interrogation. He was subjected to waterboarding 183 times as well as other harsh interrogation methods before arriving at Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
He has claimed responsibility for not only for the 9/11 attack but also Al-Qaeda-linked bombings in Bali and Kenya, the failed 2001 "shoe-bomber" attempt to bring down a U.S. airliner, and the murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl.
Under President Joe Biden, the five defendants’ pretrial hearings are resuming after a delay caused mainly by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previous hearings have been mired in the defense's effort to demonstrate that the government's evidence is tainted by the torture that defendants underwent in CIA captivity.
They also have become bogged down over accusations that the government has withheld and falsified evidence, wiretapped defense attorneys, and violated their right to a fair trial.